Cost of Food.
ONE other consideration must ever influence the great majority of men in selecting their food. I mean its cost. It is a matter of great importance to the poor, to know what kinds of food they can subsist upon with least expense. Sometimes provisions are so high that persons in poor circumstances greatly need advice in this matter. Let me endeavor to furnish some information which shall be of service to the reader.
Milk is supplied by nature to be our first food, and is a good type of all alimentary substances. It contains curd, which has nitrogen, and is equivalent to albumen and fibrin, and represents the blood formers. It has butter and sugar. These represent the heatformers. It has salts, which contain potash, soda, phosphorus, etc. Fig. 64 is a microscopic view of good milk; Fig. 65, of poor milk; and Fig.66, of milk adulterated with calf's brains. Food will be valuable in proportion as it combines, in due proportion, the articles contained in the four groups, represented FIG. 64. by albumen, fat, sugar, and salts.
Albuminous Group. Albumen, fibrin, casein, and gluten, all enter into the substance of animal and vegetable bodies, and are all composed of the same elements, namely, 48 parts carbon; 36 of hydrogen; 14 of oxygen; and 6 of nitrogen. In containing nitrogen they all differ from the other three groups. Albumen being a good type of them, they are called albuminous compounds. Albumen forms a large portion of the serum, or colorless part of the blood. It is the leading principle in alimentation. It is worked up into the tissues of our bodies. It forms our muscles, our membranes, a portion of our nerves, etc. It is the bricks of which the house we live in is made. All the articles, therefore, which are chemically constituted like it, may well be termed albuminous.
These bodies, consisting of the four organic elements named above, have been called quaternary compounds. Besides these elements, they have a minute portion of sulphur and phosphorus. They are also called protein or proteinaceous compounds.
Albumen is a very unstable compound, tending strongly to decomposition. This is owing to the complexity of its composition, and to its union with the fickle element, nitrogen, which forms chemical compacts reluctantly, and breaks them without remorse. Substances which coagulate or fix albumen in an insoluble compound, or preserve the tissues of the body, which are made from it, from decomposition or putrefaction, are called antiseptics.
Fatty Group. The next group, represented by fat, performs very important offices in the system, the most important of which is a union with albumen in the formation of cells. All animal and vegetable life begins with the cell, the tiny cup, with which nature dips all the streams of life out of the great fountain of inorganic matter. No cell is formed without a minute particle of oil. The portion not used in forming cells, is either burned as fuel to keep us warm, by uniting with oxygen, or it is stored away in the cellular tissues, adding to the bulk of the person. If, then, the very beginnings of life are dependent upon fat, it is of great importance as an article of diet. So necessary is it in the economy of life, that when not taken in the food, it is formed out of albumen in the processes of assimilation.
The Starch and Sugar Group, composed of several kinds of sugar, gum, etc., is never used in forming the tissues, but they perform important offices in the changes going on within the human organism. Thus, sugar of milk is decomposed, and forms lactic acid, so called from being found in sour milk. This acid plays a very important part in the process of nutrition.
Pure starch is a snowwhite powder, having a glistening aspect. It is composed of grains from one 300th to one 3000th of an inch in diameter in the different grains; being largest in the potato and smallest in wheat. When examined with the microscope, they appear as in Fig. 63.
The Salts Group are sufficiently spoken of in another place. A wise philosopher in ancient time said, 11 I do not live to eat and drink; I eat and drink to live." If we intend to eat to live, we must combine, in our food, the four groups above explained; and if we would live at as small expense as possible, we must take those articles which are low in price and rich in nutritive matter. The following table will help the reader make his selections:
These tables will well repay study, for their practical use will save many dollars to the poor. Let it be remembered that producing muscle is the same thing as producing strength, or laborpower. Bearing this in mind, the following table will be very interesting:
Meats are omitted in the table. So far as their nutritive qualities are concerned, it is of little consequence which are taken. Some are more digestible than others, and this consideration should influence those with weak stomachs in selecting. Every person, of course, knows their relative cheapness.
Among the vegetables given in the table, there is a wider range for choice. Let us consider them in course.
Wheat. In this, the four groups are represented in excellent proportion. When not deprived of the bran, it is perhaps the very best supporter of animal life. So high have been the regards of men for it, and so generously have they awarded to it their acknowledgments, that its product, bread, has been everywhere called 1, the staff of life." The settlement and cultivation of the immense prairies of the West have within recent years so increased the production of wheat, that its cost is now less than half what it was fifty years ago, and it is indeed within the means of all in America.
Barley. This has the four groups represented in nearly the same proportions as wheat. It is, therefore, nearly as valuable an alimentary grain. Unfortunately it is not so toothsome as wheat, and can never be so popular an article of diet. The Scotch, however, feed upon it with apparent relish, and doubtless think it strange that foreign palates are not better pleased with it.
Oats. This grain, strange to say, has more albuminous, or nutritive matter, more fat, more starch, and more salts than wheat. In uniting a large quantity of the four alimentary groups, it surpasses every other vegetable substance. In albumen, it is not quite as rich as peas and beans, and in starch it falls a trifle below fine wheat flour; but in fat it is exceeded only by Indian corn. This grain is likewise consumed largely by the Scotch,a people whose claims to shrewd common sense are well supported by, as their hardy constitutions vindicate, the choice. This grain might well be permitted to take the place of rice. It affords several times as much nutriment, while it costs only about onefifth as much. There is good reason why the horse should thrive upon oats. Most stablekeepers think their horses will do more work upon cornmeal, but this must be a mistake. In using oats for horsefeeding, a large portion of the nutriment is lost by not grinding them.
Rye. This is also a grain of considerable nutritive value. It is much cheaper than wheat; and rye meal has long been a standard, article of diet in New England, particularly in connection with Indian meal, as ,brown bread." It is useful for relieving costiveness, in the form of , hasty pudding," with molasses.
Indian Corn. This staple article of American produce needs no praise from me. It is comparatively cheap, nutritive, and wholesome. It abounds in fat and starch, and has a fair amount of albumen, though not as much as the oat, the barley, or the wheat. In salts, it is rather deficient. Indian com is strictly an American plant, and is perhaps the most popular grain in the country. It has emphatically a national reputation, and is perhaps worked up into more savory dishes than any other. At the South it is an institution. It is there made into hoecake, corncake, battercakes, batterbread, muffins, cornpone, etc. At the North, we have Johnnycake, Indian and pumpkin cake, baked Indian pudding, boiled Indian pudding, beside the well known rye and Indian bread, and other preparations. Give an ingenious Southern or Northern housewife a few simple adjuncts, such as lard, milk, sugar, eggs, cream of tartar, and soda, and she will make a pretty respectable larder from this single grain. If molasses be substituted for sugar, and a little stewed pumpkin be thrown in by way of garniture, we may have several preparations which are very nourishing as well as cheap.
Buckwheat. Poor in nutritive matter, fat, starch, and sugar, but tolerably well supplied with salts. It will do very well for battercakes in winter. When brought smoking upon the table, and served with sugar or molasses and butter, these cakes are a luxury, in which the rich may indulge if they choose; but for the poor, the amount of nourishment they afford is too small for their cost.
Rice. Much like buckwheat, except that it has more fat, sugar, and starch, and less salts. As an article of diet, it has had too high a reputation. Those who would live on small means cannot afford it. Boiled in plain water, it is excellent for a relaxed state of the bowels; and this about all the commendation to which it is entitled.
Beans. The richest in nutritive matter of all vegetable substances, except cabbage and oats. They have more albumen than wheat, or corn, or barley, or oats; but in fat and starch they are lower in the scale. Add to them salt pork, and the highest of all nutrient compounds is obtained. During not less than four generations, pork and beans, as the principal diet, nourished an ironsided race of men in New England. Beanporridge was like honey upon the tongue of the founders of New England institutions. They ate it morning, noon, and night; and thanked God for it every time. And well they might thank Him; for, with Indian com, it furnished them with a diet better adapted to their condition than any other.
Peas. Not quite as rich as beans in albumen, but more rich in starch, is of about the same value on the whole. The Canadian French, in Lower Canada, feed on peas to about the same extent that the New Englanders did on beans. Peasoup, as prepared by the best cooks among them, is a dish of great nutritive excellence; and, in my judgment, more palatable than beansoup.
The Potato. Threequarters of this root is water, and it is poor in all the elements of nutrition. It is a palatable article, and most persons are much attached to it. As bulk is of some consequence in food, the potato is not without value. Men do not often live entirely upon potatoes, not even in Ireland. Milk, buttermilk, and especially cabbage, are united with them.
Turnips, Carrots, Beets, Parsnips. These are much alike, being all poor in nutritive qualities. They serve to please the palate by furnishing a variety; but in our city markets they are expensive, and do not furnish an economical diet.
Cabbage. It is interesting to observe how the instincts of men have in all ages led them to select those articles of diet which their circumstances have demanded. The poverty of the Irish has led them to subsist largely upon the potato, a root which the soil of their country yields profusely. But as this root has but little nutritive matter, necessity required that it should be united with some other vegetable. The natural instinct selected the cabbage; and when chemical science came, at length, to pass judgment upon the correctness of 'this instinct, it turns out that the cabbage is the richest in albumen of any known vegetable. The cabbage, then, is the natural complement of the potato; and the Irish had the sagacity, without science, to bring the two together. It is said the Irish have a dish named , kohlcannon," consisting of boiled and mashed potatoes and cabbage, seasoned with pork fat, pepper, and salt, and that it is a truly savory dish. It certainly is a nourishing and a cheap one. The ambassador who was sent to tamper with the patriotism of a Roman who had dined on beans, was asked if be was silly enough to think gold and silver could bribe a man who was satisfied with so plain a fare, and desired no other. We come to the conclusion then, that beanporridge, peasoup, suetpudding sweetened with molasses, oat. meal, and barley bread, with,, kohlcannon " for those who can digest it, will furnish, for hardworking men, the most substantial diet, at the smallest possible expense. To render these dishes savory, and to make the table on which they are spread an inviting board, the deft housewife must employ her best skill in serving them. With the thousand 11 fixings, with which a New England matron knows how to garnish them (or would know how if they came within her culinary operations), they are well fitted to leave savory impressions upon tongues which would praise them to the end of life. I speak of these articles as furnishing a cheap diet for working men. The indolent, the sedentary, and the effeminate from various causes, could not digest them.
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